Dear Readers:

Welcome to this supplemental weblog of my primary weblog, Mystagogy. I have titled it Honey and Hemlock, and here I will delve deeper into subjects and issues that cannot be adequately addressed and examined in Mystagogy, though I have hinted on these subjects there for a few years now. Here at Honey and Hemlock subjects such as Philosophy, Science, Politics, Society and Culture, Movies, Television, Music, Books and Literature, etc. will be examined in a way that probably would not fit into the direction where I am going with Mystagogy. This forum was created to move forward in this direction without taking away anything from the way I want to move forward at Mystagogy.

Dichotomies and paradoxes have long fascinated me. For this reason, I have titled this weblog Honey and Hemlock, not only for what the dichotomy has implied in history, but also how it can be applied today. Plutarch, in his Parallel Lives, wrote of the city of Athens:

But it appears to be truly said of that city that the good men whom she breeds are of the highest excellence, and the bad men of the most despicable baseness, just as her country produces the sweetest honey and the deadliest hemlock.

The Church Fathers, many of whom were educated in Athens, took this strange dichotomy and made it their own. The Athenian educated Saint Basil the Great, in his Address to Young Men on the Right Use of Greek Literature, when advising Christians how to study ancient pagan philosophy, religion, literature, rhetoric, history and poetry, warns: "Therefore the soul must be guarded with great care, lest through our love for letters it receive some contamination unawares, as men drink in poison with honey." For this reason, without dismissing the desire to study these things, he advised and encouraged:

But on the other hand we shall receive gladly those passages in which they praise virtue or condemn vice. For just as bees know how to extract honey from flowers, which to men are agreeable only for their fragrance and color, even so here also those who look for something more than pleasure and enjoyment in such writers may derive profit for their souls. Now, then, altogether after the manner of bees must we use these writings, for the bees do not visit all the flowers without discrimination, nor indeed do they seek to carry away entire those upon which they light, but rather, having taken so much as is adapted to their needs, they let the rest go. So we, if wise, shall take from heathen books whatever befits us and is allied to the truth, and shall pass over the rest. And just as in culling roses we avoid the thorns, from such writings as these we will gather everything useful, and guard against the noxious. So, from the very beginning, we must examine each of their teachings, to harmonize it with our ultimate purpose, according to the Doric proverb: 'Testing each stone by the measuring-line.' Since we must needs attain to the life to come through virtue, our attention is to be chiefly fastened upon those many passages from the poets, from the historians, and especially from the philosophers, in which virtue itself is praised.

This passage of Saint Basil has throughout the centuries been the measuring line for Christians who desire to read and participate in something that is either opposed to or ignorant of Christianity and the virtuous life each Christian is called to.

Saint Gregory Palamas, in his Triads, asks: "Is there anything of use to us in [pagan] philosophy?" He answers his question by combining Plutarch and Basil, saying:

For just as there is much therapeutic value even in substances obtained from the flesh of serpents, and the doctors consider there is no better and more useful medicine that that derived from this source, so there is something of benefit to be had even from the profane philosophers - but somewhat as in a mixture of honey and hemlock. So it is most needful that those who wish to separate out the honey from the mixture should beware that they do not take the deadly residue by mistake, and if you are to examine the problem, you would see that all or most of the harmful heresies derive their origin from this source.

We are warned here of the great dangers that exist in dividing the honey from the hemlock, the good from the evil, the virtue from the vice, the true and beneficial from the false and profane. This is why Saint Gregory goes on to say: "But to divide well is the property of very few men."

Here at Honey and Hemlock I will attempt to do this with fear of this warning and guided by the thought and tradition behind it, but also from my own personal experience of living it on a daily basis as an Orthodox Christian in the world who does not desire to be of the world, but rather of Christ. The subjects mentioned above all indeed have elements of honey and hemlock, but it is rare if not impossible for them to be only honey or only hemlock. Without going into further details here, this is the basis upon which the website will move forward.

With love in Christ,

John Sanidopoulos